Coveted games: Sweet spring blossoms

As spring is slowly but surely taking over, flowers and trees are starting to blossom, and games are doing the same. We have a nice spring release schedule ahead of us, with some long-awaited games finally blooming in Europe and some games popping out of the blue just like precocious flowers. Without further ado, here's my list of coveted games for the Spring 2016!

Langrisser Re:Incarnation-Tensei (3DS): I don't know this 25-years-old series at all, so it will be a pleasure to discover it on my 3DS. I'm obviously planning to import a physical copy from North-America, since Europe will once again have to make do with a digital version. Nothing stops a collector from getting their boxed games!

Grand Kingdom (Vita): For some reason, this game reminded me immediatly of Grand Knights History on the PSP, and it turned out that the two games were directed by the same developer, a certain Tomohiko Deguchi. This is thus some kind of unofficial sequel, and it's a nice treat to get given that Grand Knights History's planned localization was cancelled a couple of years ago.

Gal*Gun: Double Peace (Vita): I'm not yet totally sure that I will invest in that game, but... I am at least curious about it. I'm always ready to expand my gaming horizons and an on-rail shooter sounds like an interesting premise, so maybe I'll cave in and try my hand at it. Rice Digital is offering an exclusive limited edition of the Vita version, but I'll pass on it after my recent lukewarm experiences in that field.

Atelier Sophie-The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book (Vita): The Vita will only benefit from a digital release of that game, which is quite a pity. I would have been more than glad to invest in a limited physical edition; but so far, such a plan doesn't seem to be in the pipeline. That's a bit of a shame, really—although I guess we can count ourselves lucky to get that game at all, given the number of publishers that don't even bother localizing their Vita IPs. (I'm looking at you, Squeenix and Sega.)

Fire Emblem Conquest/Birthright (3DS): A.k.a. "Fire Emblem goes Pokemon". Well, Pokemon-lite inspiration or not, this pair is one of the major 3DS RPG releases slated this year and I'm certainly not going to miss it, especially since we're getting it physical in Europe.

Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness (Vita): Here's one of these games that appeared all of a sudden in the Spring 2016 release schedule, seemingly out of nowhere. Well, not exactly out of nowhere in that case: this visual novel used to be an XBox One exclusive and is now ported to the Vita, one year after its initial release. I didn't dig too deep for information, preferring instead to keep the game unspoiled for my future playthrough. 

Yo-Kai Watch (3DS): The much-coveted Pokemon clone is finally coming to European shores; and whilst some players have imported and discovered it a long time ago, I preferred to wait for the official European release. I'm curious about this game and series, but not overly excited—which means that I could end up loving it, since low gaming expectations often pave the way for stellar gaming experiences as far as I'm concerned.

Zero Time Dilemma (3DS/Vita): My biggest issue regarding the long awaited, rescued-from-the-jaws-of-death Zero series' third instalment is which version I will purchase. I have the first two entries on the DS and 3DS, so it would make sense to buy the 3DS version for the sake of consistency; but on the other hand, the Vita version will certainly look better and may turn out to be more comfortable to play. Oh, well; I still have a couple of weeks to make a decision.

That's certainly a solid Spring 2016 wish list—and that's without counting games listed in my last Coveted Games post that are slated for release in the next weeks, such as Stranger of Sword City, Trillion God of Destruction and Odin Sphere. My bank account won't know peace anytime soon, so much is sure! Feel free to let me know about your own coveted games in the comments, dear fellow gamers; and as usual, thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


The Pit (a.k.a. the collector's moment)

To clarify this post's intentionally vague title, let's start with a telling anecdote. Rewind to 1992: the Sega Megadrive is all the rage, and I'm regularly invading my neighbour's house to get my fill of Sonic and Streets of Rage, mourning the fact that my parents refuse to welcome Sega's black beauty in our own home. Fast-forward to 1997: as the Playstation is taking the gaming world by storm, I finally get the opportunity to purchase a Megadrive. Second-hand Megadrives and games are there for the taking for ridiculously low prices, and I indulge in a massive purchasing spree that wouldn't have been possible when the Megadrive was at the top of its game. Fast-forward again to the noughties and further: retrogaming is the new thing and Megadrives cost again as much as brand-new systems, if not more; same goes for the games. Now, see that moment when the prices of Megadrives and games were at their lowest and I could indulge in a giant shopping spree? That, fellow gamers, is what I call The Pit.

I coined that term to describe that elusive moment when a console has lost all its value to regular gamers yet has not yet become a object coveted by collectors and retrogamers. The Pit is characterized by both an overabundance of systems for sale—second-hand or brand-new—and incredibly cheap prices—much cheaper than during the system's heyday. As such, it is the perfect moment to purchase games and systems, because purchasing power is increased tenfold. I put together my whole Nintendo DS and PSP collections during these two consoles' Pits, which took place roughly at the same time and are still ongoing, although they are on their last legs.

Indeed, how long is The Pit? Although I referred to it as an "elusive moment", it can actually last quite long. The Pit always happens at the beginning of a new console generation and its length is directly proportional to the success of the involved system; in other words, the more successful a system is, the longest its Pit will be. The Pit corresponds to the amount of time necessary to sell: a)all the stocks of unsold brand-new consoles and games and b)all unwanted second-hand consoles and games owned by amateur gamers. Once these two sources are depleted, the market for the involved system suddenly dries up and prices skyrocket—hence the image of a pit, stuck between two peaks of high prices. The price rebound marks the moment when collectors that follow the "investor" model come out of the woodwork and offer for ludicrous prices the goods they bought a couple of years before, still brand-new and wrapped. But that's another matter that I won't cover here; instead, let's study the Pits of the DS and the PSP.

The DS Pit is still ongoing with a relative vigour, although it's starting to show signs of weakness. The rarest DS games are already excruciatingly hard to find, second-hand as well as new, complete or cartridge only. For instance, I purchased a couple of weeks ago a second-hand copy of Shepherd's Crossing 2. This game, which Kina of My RPG Blog described as "quite cheap on Amazon" in a 2010 post, is now nearly impossible to find; and when it is, it comes with an insane price tag, such as the $75 of my own copy. Brand-new DSi can still be found quite easily if one is not too picky regarding colours, but good luck with finding a genuine brand-new DS Lite. In other words, whilst the DS' Pit is not over yet, it's very likely closer to its end than to its inception.

The PSP Pit, on the other hand, is well and truly over for the most part. I bought a slew of PSPs in 2013 and 2014 for a average price of $130/EUR 100; nowadays, a mere two years later, a brand-new PSP is more likely to cost around $300, all the more so if it comes in a rare colour, and even the "discount" PSP Street models command high prices. Popular PSP games that were mass-produced can still be found brand-new for a really cheap price, but most PSP games are becoming increasingly harder to find, be they brand-new or second-hand. Hexyz Force, which I bought complete in late 2014 for $60, now comes with a price tag of at least $90 for the full package and $60 for the UMD alone.

The fact that the DS Pit is lasting longer than the PSP Pit blatantly contradicts what common sense would have us believe, i.e. that the less popular system would have the longest Pit. Common sense dictates that if people sniffed at a console during said console's tenure, then surely no one will want to invest in it once it bails out; and yet, the facts show that this is not the case. This leads us to the interesting question of who polishes off unsold inventory and second-hand items during a system's Pit. Although I didn't perform a full statistical study of the matter and certainly won't do so, some purchasing behaviours I've witnessed in myself and others shed light on possible answers. Here are the three main types of potential buyers during Pit periods:

  • Players who missed on the system entirely due to a lack of funds, a lack of time to play, sheer unawareness of the system's existence or any other good reason yet want to discover it and invest in it. These players are likely to buy systems as well as games, sometimes building up full collections for a very decent price. This was my case with the DS: I avoided it during its tenure due to its kiddie image, which made me fear that I wouldn't find any game to my liking. (History has since proven that nothing could be further from the truth, but that's another story.)
  • Players whose console is dying on them yet want to keep playing it, if only occasionally. Those are usually great aficionados of the system who invested in it early on and literally played their console to death, hence the need for a replacement towards the end of the console's lifestyle. These players are more likely to concentrate solely on the console itself, although they may purchase a long-lost game in the process.
  • Players who are also collectors and want to enrich their collection while prices are at their lowest and before the console and its games truly disappears from shelves. These players are also more likely to concentrate on the console itself, scouring Ebay and Amazon in search of juicy bargains. They can buy regular systems with a low price tag that will be used as backups just as willingly as special editions that will become sound investments on the long run. 
My theory is that this core of lingering aficionados is roughly the same size regardless of how popular the involved system is, which explains why an unpopular system is likely to experience a much shorter Pit than a popular system. This fixed core of aficionados will polish off an unpopular system's unsold inventory and unwanted second-hand items pool faster than a popular system's ones, because an unpopular system is automatically less massively produced than a popular system and will thus offer less unsold inventory and second-hand items ready for the taking during the Pit. QED—well, somehow.

The Pit is a pretty fascinating subject, and it becomes even more so when one pores over details. There are a lot of subtleties to be uncovered, such as the fact that a given console's Pit may occur later and/or be longer in some regions than in others, with Japan usually being the last region to experience Pits and retaining stocks of systems and games long after the European and North-American stocks are depleted. The Pit can also affect individual gaming items in a given console generation, generating many parallel Pit trajectories that sometimes don't exactly coincide: a rare game, for instance, may experience its Pit whilst its host console is still soaring and have become a high-priced collector's item by the time said host console hits its own Pit. Last but not least, some gaming items have no Pit at all, experiencing instead a continuous price increase starting from the very day of their release; such are the limited special editions of games and consoles, which are intentionally designed to be rare and see their Pit reduced to nothing because of this planned rarity.

The Pit is one of my favourite game collecting-related subject, and I keep studying it by checking and comparing the prices of games and consoles from last generation on a regular basis. My prognosis for the current console generation is that the 3DS will experience a Pit whose length will be comprised between the DS' and the PSP's—it's already fairly difficult to get one's paws on the first regular 3DS models without forking out a ridiculous amount of cash—whilst the Vita will rush through a lightning-fast Pit and go from legacy console to collector's piece overnight. But apart from being a gripping subject, the Pit is first and foremost a conjuncture in which a console's popularity is at its lowest; a conjuncture that happens to be the best moment to purchase games and consoles. The Pit could as well be called "the collector's moment": it's a blessed time that allows a game collector to complete—or build up from scratch—their collection by preying on gaming items that have become cheap yet are still abundant. Miss that moment by a few years and you'll find yourself paying high prices for crappy second-hand items, just like I did when I decided to invest in the Gameboy Advance. I won't let that happen again, though: I firmly intend to take advantage of the 3DS' Pit to grab myself a couple of backups, and I'll also make the most of whatever Pit the Vita will go through. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Animal Crossing-New Leaf: Day 20

New Leaf has pretty much become part of my gaming regimen now and I'm certainly not thinking of quitting anytime soon. I've perfected and refined my in-game routine, tackling new tasks and relinquishing others. For instance, I all but stopped trips to the Tropical Island; although these visits could be quite productive, they felt too much like farming bouts for my taste. I prefer to stay in my lovely old village, even though the enrichment rate there is considerably lower. My early trips to the Tropical Island were not for naught, though; you could say that they literally bear fruit, since they allowed me to collect a large range of tropical fruits that I could then replant in my own village. These foreign specimens acclimatized pretty well, and my local cherry trees now cohabit with lemon trees, lychee trees and more—not to mention that my shorelines are now adorned with countless coconut trees.

And talking about local cherry trees, I've decided a couple of days ago that the peach should hereafter become the local fruit in lieu of the cherry—first because peach is my favourite fruit of all the ones offered by the game, second because peaches look so ripe and full, and third because I'm the mayor and this place is my oyster. I thus started cutting down cherry trees with great enthusiam and replacing them with peach trees, and I already have a nice and productive peach orchard next to my home. That's not to say that I will totally give up on other fruits, mind you: I want peaches to be the prevailing fruit in my village, but I'm still planning to maintain smaller orchards featuring all the other fruits—including cherries.

Apart from wreaking havoc on the local flora, I maintain pretty much the same daily routine as any other New Leaf player: I chat with the neighbours and fulfil their demands, I hunt bugs, pick up shells and harvest fruits before selling them, I put some crappy items for sale in the Recycle store and, last but not least, I savour the littles surprises that pop up each day. (For instance, yesterday was the so-called "Bunny Day" and involved a giant hunt for chocolate eggs. That was lovely, although I gave up after a couple of minutes because the last three sorts of eggs were too tedious to find.) In a nutshell, I'm enjoying myself. A lot.

My only real gripe with New Leaf lies in the fact that it takes so, so very long to accomplish anything in that game. Mind you, I'm not referring to the overall slow pace of the game, i.e. the fact that only one public work project can be tackled at a time, the fact that fruits take a couple of real time-days to regrow or the fact that house improvements can only be witnessed the next day; this is all part of New Leaf's unique style and it's what makes the game so relaxing. What I'm referring to is the fact that even the meanest in-game task takes much longer than it should. I often find myself playing New Leaf for 45 minutes or one hour at a time; and yet, when I close my 3ds, I've hardly accomplished anything more than harvesting some fruits, capturing a couple of insects, excavating a handful of fossils and repaying a meagre fraction of my loans. The return on investment when it comes to gaming satisfaction is clearly not meaty enough for my taste: one hour of gaming should provide me with more tasks to accomplish and a deeper satisfaction than the one I derive from my daily session of New Leaf. As a result, I decided to keep things in check and to play no more than 30 minutes a day; I will accomplish things slower, but that's fine by me. It's not like the game is rushing me forward anyway, now is it?

Retaliatory measures aside, I identified a couple of factors that play a huge part in making mundane tasks so unbearably slow. Those are pretty much gameplay tweaks that seem to have been implemented for the sole purpose of lengthening play time, which make New Leaf one of these (too) numerous games rife with fake longevity:

  • The default walking speed is way too slow. I'm constantly pressing B to run, which can become hard on my fingers after a while. The running speed should have been the default speed, period.
  • The talking speed is also unbearably slow, even when using the B or L button to speed it up, and it cannot be altered in the options. Worse, text cannot be skipped at all, which forces the player to endure the villagers introductory speeches every single time they address them. Not to mention that constantly pressing the L or B button when talking to people can be tiring.
  • The inventory's capacity is painfully limited, which forces the player to take a lot of extra trips during the harvesting and selling processes. 
  • The overall speed of everything is painfully indolent. My character moves around slowly, picks up items from the ground slowly, digs slowly, fishes slowly and so on, as though they have all the time in the world. Well, maybe they do, but I do not. 
  • Villagers who want to invite you to their places or visit yours always want to do so at least one hour later. Why not just five minutes later, damnit? I have more important things to do than mill about for one hour or reopen my 3ds just to rendezvous with digital animals.

I cannot help but think that New Leaf would be so much more fulfiling if only it played three times faster. Why this languor, anyway? Did Nintendo think players would be all stressed out if their mayoral self moved faster or if text could be skipped? Or is it a classic case of a conscious design to make play sessions drag on unduly and inflate the overall gameplay time, giving birth to impossibly long playthroughs? Whatever the reason, this display of fake longevity spoils my experience ever-so-slightly and could well be one of my main reasons to give up on the game in a distant future. But we're not there yet; for now, I'm still enjoying the game and I want to indulge in it for a little while longer. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Collector's delight: Of summer, swimsuits & showdowns

Although DOAX3 and its lush special editions are all the rage now, I chose to focus on another game packed with summery settings and revealing swimsuits. That game is none other than Senran Kagura: Estival Versus, a game so heavy on estival aesthetics that gazing at the box alone makes me wish summer were already there. We're talking more specifically about the Millennium Festival edition, known as the Endless Summer edition in North-America. These two Specials pack up exactly the same goodies, the only difference being the outer box; and I have to admit that for once, Europe got the best version. Look at the beauty Marvelous bestowed upon us!

This gorgeous box bursting with bright colours and featuring all the characters is not as enormous as the one hosting the Deluxe Edition of Bravely Second, but it's not too far off the mark. We're talking about a 24 x 34 x 5cm box, which is still much larger than a book and makes that special edition cumbersome to store in regular shelves or pantries. A teeny-weeny bit galling, especially knowing that most of that space is occupied by the cardboard structure hosting the feelies. And since I'm mentioning the feelies, here they are in all their colourful glory:

We have a double-CD bursting with tracks, an art book, some postcards and last but not least, the game itself. The art book contains lovely illustrations along with detailed descriptions of all the characters' background, which is quite enjoyable. I only regret that Marvelous didn't include strategy advices like they did in the "Let's get Physical" edition of Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus. Oh, well.

All in all, this is a gorgeous special edition and an excellent deal to boot, given that the game alone costs roughly the same price. Of course, one had to be an early bird to get their paws on this special, since Marvelous used again the system of preoders and print-on-demand that had proven so successful with Senran Kagura 2. I love them more and more for not giving up on physical format when the whole industry is trying to make digital distribution the norm, and for crafting beautiful special editions to boot. I can feel all their love and passion for the game in that vibrant box, and I will most certainly buy more lovingly designed Specials for them. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Bravely Default: Bravely is the new Fantasy

The recent reception of my Deluxe Edition of Bravely Second reminded me that I had yet to play the serie's first instalment, which I bought a good two years ago yet never touched. Classic story, shall we say; the same could be told about most of my game collection. But I digress; the important point here is that my gaming instinct commanded me to pick up Bravely Default and discover the series for myself at long last.

I would nearly be tempted to write "rediscover", because Bravely Default bears an uncanny resemblance to a game I played two years ago. More than a mere resemblance, in fact. For, lo and behold, Bravely Default is basically Final Fantasy I with revamped graphics, a slighty more fleshed-out story, an inflated job system and an avalanche of gameplay tweaks designed to erase all trace of old-school clunkiness. But I'm not fooled by all this flashiness, oh no precious: under the modern coating, this is old-fashioned Final Fantasy through and through. Here's a convenient list of all the similarities I've spotted so far:

  • The design of the game world is similar to the one found in FFI, with a roamable world map full of areas that can be explored yet serve no purpose and empty dungeons devoid of puzzles.  
  • Crystal-based narrative, Phoenix Downs and spells that have exactly the same names and effects as the ones encountered in FFI: the whole Final Fantasy grammar is there allright. 
  • The job system is there too and shamelessly reprises some of FFI's jobs: Knight, Thief, Monk and the good old White/Black/Red Mage trio. 
  • Last but not least, Bravely Default has a certain dryness to it, just like its venerable model. This is a game that's rather light on the narrative side yet offers millions of excellent reasons to grind senselessly. All things considered, it actually offers little more than metric tons of grinding. The story is not gripping enough to provide a reason to play the game and often consists in detours and meanderings that are only pretexts for more grinding. The sidequests only lead to the acquisitions of new Jobs, which then lead to even more grinding. And the rest... Well, the rest is just grinding, period.

Which is just so, so totally fine by me. I love heavily grindy RPGs as a rule and I have a taste for simple and straightforward gameplay styles: since Bravely Default fits both bills, I'm absolutely lapping it up. Gorging on it would probably be closer to the truth: I enthusiastically play it for hours on end, and I'm more likely to stop my daily session of play because my 3ds' battery is dying on me than because I'm bored of the game. And since I'm mentioning my daily sessions of play, let's expand a bit on my run, shall we?

I've played 17 hours so far and just started the Eisenberg arc. My party members' Jobs are pretty much fixed now, with Edea as a Knight, Tiz as a Monk, Agnès as a White Mage and Ringabel as a Black Mage; these Jobs fit them perfectly and they all perform really well in their respective roles. I've gotten 13 of the 24 Jobs available and I'm enjoying myself immensely with all the possible combinations of Job Commands and Support Abilities—so much so that I'm currently in the middle of a grinding marathon in order to raise every single Job to Lv.6 for all my party members. There's something curiously intoxicating in the though of directing a bunch of over-powered characters mastering every single competence offered by the game; that very though had been a driving force in my legendary solo run of Dragon Quest IX, compelling me to play beyond reason, and it is very much a driving force as well in my run of Bravely Default. Last but not least, I'm playing on Easy mode. That makes nearly all battles a piece of cake, and I'm regretting that a trifle; however, the Normal mode is just too, well... hard. It makes even the meanest random battle last forever, and it's simply unacceptable in such a grindy game. A difficulty rate halfway between Easy and Normal would have been pitch-perfect, but it's not available. Oh, well. Bravely Default is so deliciously player-friendly that I'm not complaining in earnest. Take the random encounter meter, for instance: isn't that the most perfect tool ever to grind senselessly? Crank it up to 100%, and voilà! Random battles every two steps for your convenience! So much more practical than the old random item that raises random encounter rate for a while only. And the flexible and customizable Job system is both really simple to grasp and incredibly fulfilling—more so than any Job system I've ever encountered in an RPG, including the one in DQIX. And let's not even talk about the adjustable speed in combat and the possibility to wrap up random battles neatly and quickly by spamming the Brave command and stacking up turns, which are absolute blessings that nearly made me tear up when I discovered them.

You get the idea now: I totally adore that game and I feast on it on a daily basis. It's old-school Final Fantasy brought to a new generation of players; and when I say that, I'm including myself in said new generation. I never had an attachment to the Final Fantasy series because I virtually missed all its entries, and playing them years—or decades—later cannot arouse the kind of genuine affection a gamer can feel for a series they've discovered and played from its inception. But with Bravely Default, I can finally have my own Final Fantasy: my own legendary series that sums up and encompasses the very essence of turn-based old-school RPG goodness. Here's to many more Bravely entries to come! Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Collector's delight: So much more than just art

I mentioned in my ultimate post about Legend of Legacy that I had ordered the game's official art book, just for the sake of diving deeper into that game world that enthralled me so very much. I received the book a mere couple of days after receiving the special edition of Summon Night 6, and it went a long way toward alleviating the disappointment generated by said special edition. I got much more than I bargained for in purchasing that book, and it was worth many special editions I've purchased lately. See that beauty for yourselves, fellow gamers:

The colours are splendid, and the art is no less: Kobayashi Tomomi, of SaGa fame, did an absolutely stellar job there. The character designs are stunningly gorgeous and make them look so much more impressive and charismatic than in the game, where they are little more than cookie-cutter 3D models:

The beauty! The elegance! Such a display of resplendence would have been enough to sate me, since I bought this art book solely to gaze at gorgeous pictures related to the game; but to my utter surprise and delight, there was more in store for me. See, this art book is actually supposed to be the game's "official graphical guide", as the cover states; and I quickly discovered that this somewhat vague designation actually means that the book is a strategy guide with some art included. In other words, my absolute dream idea of what an art book related to a game should be.

Look at this! Detailed maps, replete with annotations! And that's only a fraction of the book's content: from spells to items to stances to fighting strategies, it covers every aspect of the game, with tons of text, data tables and pictures. It's a splendid book that contains all the data a Legend of Legacy aficionado could dream of, along with a copious amount of eye-candy. The art and the game designs—main characters, foes, places and the like—occupy a good third of the book whilst the strategy guide occupies the last two thirds. That's just the perfect balance, if you ask me.

It goes without saying that I wholeheartedly recommend these 255 pages of splendour to any Legend of Legacy aficionado who wants to invest in a book related to the game. Just like its source material, this art book is a true work of love, and it shows beautifully. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Collector's delight: Style over substance

First and foremost, here's a disclaimer: this was totally an impulse purchase. There was not a shred of rationality involved there: the rational decision would have been to wait for an hypothetical Western release of Summon Night 6—or for the confirmation that there would be no such release—before purchasing a Japanese copy of that game. This is a textbook occurrence of a purchase solely motivated by a "special" coating and not by the game itself.

If this sounds like some sort of self-flagellation, that's because it is. And it is so because I've been fooled; fooled by a "special" that promised more than it delivered. This 15th Anniversary Edition of Summon Night 6 is all style over substance: it's flashy, it's gorgeous, but it's ultimately empty and vapid. Before I explain why, let's take a look at the package:

Pretty, right? Gorgeous picture, lovely colours and a huge, thick box in A4 format crammed with items:

"Crammed with items" is the right way to put it, indeed; because once these feelies are out, it's excruciatingly difficult to put them back where they belong. The outer box is a teeny-weeny bit too tight, despite its respectable size; but that's the lesser problem here. The biggest issue is that tantalizing art book, which turned out to be nothing more than a compendium of all the character designs of the six Summon Night games. That, and nothing more. Not only is this the laziest way to fill an art book I've ever seen, but it's also utterly pointless: chances are high that the players ready to invest in this edition are aficionados of the series, who already know the games and their characters inside out and don't need their memory to be refreshed by an art book. To add insult to injury, the designs utterly lack charm and are not especially pleasant to look at—although this is a matter of taste, I guess.

This special edition, along a couple of others I've purchased lately, has made me a trifle suspicious of special editions in general. I've come to understand that the presence of an art book is by no means a guarantee of interesting content, and I'm going to refrain from blindly purchasing "specials"  containing art books from now on. Once bitten, twice shy! Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Collector's delight: A true collector piece

Let's face it: although they are usually highly coveted, most special editions of games are far from being true collector's pieces. They often consist in little more than a couple of randoms items slapped together in a crappy cardboard box adorned with garish colours; not exactly the kind of valuable one would like to expose on a shelf, at least not outside of a dedicated gaming room. The Deluxe Edition of Bravely Second, however, breaks that mold and positions itself as a genuine work of art, a classy and stylish package that a game collector may want to proudly display to everyone's eyes. Mind you, this game collector may not really have another choice.

It doesn't quite show on that picture, but that beast is absolutely HUGE. 30 x 38 x 8 cm, to be exact, and a hefty 1,9 kg on the scale. This is by far the most enormous special edition of a game I've ever seen, so enormous that it's nearly ridiculous. Obviously, this monster doesn't fit in any of my shelves, let alone in a pantry; so I've had no other choice but to put it on top of a bookcase. There it sits proudly, displaying its black soberness to everyone's eyes.

Upon opening comes a first layer containing the game, a soundtrack CD and the mini-figurine of Agnès, along that gorgeous picture adorning the inside of the lid. That first layer can be removed to reveal the art book:

It's worth noting that despite its respectable size, this art book contains no text apart from the captions accompanying each picture. I guess you cannot really blame an art book for being exactly that, i.e. a book full of art; but still, given the size of this particular book, I expected to come across at least a couple of interviews or explanatory texts regarding the game's conception. Oh, well. This art book remains a masterpiece, full of gorgeous pictures covering every aspect of the game.

Last but not least comes the mini-figurine of Agnès:

I don't care one bit about figurines, but I have to admit that this one is truly lovely. It is rather well-finished and faithful to the character's design—unlike the one included in the Collector Edition of Bravely Default, which was infamous for its ugliness and lack of polish. I certainly won't display that adorable piece of plastic anywhere, but it feels like a valuable addition to that special edition.

All in all, I'm quite satisfied of that purchase. It feels good to own a "special" that looks and feels like a genuine work of art, with love and care involved in its conception, and not like a half-baked attempt at cashing in by exploiting game collectors' purchasing impulses. Now I still have to like the game, but I'm none too worried about this, given that... Well, more on that later! Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Animal Crossing-New Leaf: The importance of sound foundations

This post could as well have been titled "the importance of town layout" or "the importance of fellow villagers" or "the importance of local fruits", because all these things are paramount factors in the success of a playthrough of New Leaf. For yours truly, at least.

Although my lovely little village is barely eight days old, I've actually been playing the game for twice as long. I picked it up on the 28th of february and started a playthrough with much enthusiasm, eager to discover at long last that game that is so widely branded as one of the most addictive simulation games ever created, spawning impossibly long playthroughs in its wake. Unfortunately, the magic didn't quite work on me. After eight days of plodding and yawning, I had to face the horrible truth: I was not enjoying the ride. My town layout made me feel claustrophobic, my fellow villagers were boring and looked weird, and the whole thing was more akin to an overstretched snoozefest than to an rollercoaster of addiction. So much for the year-long playthrough I had fantasized about, did I sigh whilst popping the cartridge out of my 3ds.

However, as I was about to put said cartridge back into its box, I changed my mind and decided to give the game a second chance. Everybody deserves a second chance, especially games that have been purchased with cold hard cash; and so I stuck the cartridge back in my 3ds, determined to start all over on sounder foundations. I chose a different town layout more to my liking, which led me to discover that my fellow villagers were actually chosen at random, just like the town's local variety of fruit. I ended up with trees loaded with cherries in lieu of oranges and with a batch of quirky and zesty villagers much more interesting than the ones populating my first village. From snobby sheep Willow to whimsical Cat Moe, without forgetting Ricky, the ever-frowning, pint-sized squirrel who was kind enough to offer me a plump peach on my second day on mayoral duty, they are all a pleasure to look at and interact with. Not to mention Isabelle, who is nearly too adorable to handle. This new village gave me an immediate feeling of cosiness that the first one had not managed to arouse; and with that, I knew that I was on safe ground and ready to roll.

That's not to say that I expect to spend years playing New Leaf like some dedicated players did, but I can certainly see myself playing it for some time and getting a lot of enjoyment out of it. I've been playing daily for the last eight days and I really delight in the soothing gameplay and the mellow, nearly mundane atmosphere. I'm very much a routine person, and the idea of getting a small dose of New Leaf every single day for a while is a very pleasant idea indeed. I found out that I enjoy the game more if I play it for short periods of time, and the real-time feature and overall slow pace definitely encourage an incremental way of playing rather than a greedy one in which the player gorges on hours of play at once.

I've also found out what I will indulge in and what I will gladly skip—at least for the time being. Growing different types of fruits is definitely a goal I want to achieve, as well as making my town as leafy as possible by cramming it with trees. Since I'm mentioning trees, I've stopped shaking those that bear no fruits: although it can sometimes yield interesting items, it's definitely too tedious for my taste. Just like my ultimate bane in that game, which is none other than donating items to the Museum. Not only is the process unbearably tedious, forcing the player to first assess and then donate the items, but that whole concept is totally at odds with my non-completist mindset. It reminds me of these Panini sticker albums I tried—and unvariably failed—to fill up when I was a kid, and I can already envision how things will evolve: there will be some super-rare fossils/insects/whatever that will be a royal pain to obtain, leading only to frustration and disappointment. I'd rather skip the whole thing entirely and spare myself that pain; and if my village grows to be a lair of uneducated louts, then be it. At least we'll have full bellies thanks to all the fruits I will grow. Food is life! As a whole, my goal is to luxuriate in New Leaf's mellow atmosphere, to enjoy the little novelties that pop up every day and to indulge in whatever I feel like doing during my daily playing session. Only time will tell where this will lead me, and I'm quite curious to see—and play—it for myself.

I'll keep you posted about my New Leaf adventure, fellow gamers. I'd be curious to know if you experienced a similar disaffection with your first town(s) and curious to know any interesting anecdotes about your own playthroughs, so feel free to expand on the matter in the comments! Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


The Legend of Legacy: All good things come to an end (spoilers!)

Including great games. After 34 hours of roaming, fighting and looting, my run of Legend of Legacy is over. And you know what? I'm sad. I feel some bittersweet ache at the thought that my fascinating, entrancing, deeply fulfilling run of that game is over. I could have gone on for yet another thirty hours, discovering new dungeons and drinking in the game's unique atmosphere.

Why the drama, you may ask? Surely you can indulge in postgame, or roam again old dungeons if you want your run to be longer, right? Well, actually, no. Not only is there no postgame at all in LoL, but the game literally forbids you to roam Avalon again once the final boss is beaten. I found myself in Initius after the deed was done, with no possibility to save or alter my party—which was actually disbanded, my former mates walking amongst the locals and commenting on the fact that our adventure together was a hell of a good one and that we should do that again someday. I then left Initius, which triggered the credits; and after witnessing lead character Garnet's final scene, I was sent back to the beginning of the game and given the possibility to start a New Game+ right away. I obviously didn't do so, since I was still busy digesting the whole experience and trying to come to terms with the fact that my run was over.

Although I had been playing for 34 hours already, I didn't expect the ending to come so soon, so to speak. The game's non-linear brand of dungeon-crawling means that there was no ominous build-up to the final showdown, and the last boss came nearly out of the blue. Although there was no mistaking that grandiose fight for anything else than the Final Boss Fight, it was still a bit of a surprise to see the game come to an end right after that—especially since the ending does not exactly shed light on the island's many mysteries. I suspect the storyline to be a choral one, in which it is necessary to clear the game with all the characters to get the full picture; and I suspect that full picture to be quite a blurry one anyway, with many elements being left to the player's imagination. At any rate, the combination of that cryptic storyline and that old-school ending that puts a full stop to the game instead of being a mere pre-postgame intermission gives me the odd, persistant and wondrous feeling that my playthrough has been an incursion into a dream of sorts.

Whether this effect was voluntarily crafted by the developers or not, it is one of my favourite aspects of LoL. Never before have I played a game that made me feel so much like I was exploring a mysterious and ultimately unfathomable world, with just a handful of cryptic clues to help me figure things out—or not. My gaming fernweh came back full force, to the point where I did something that I usually never do, i.e. purchase the official art book in order to soak myself deeper in that marvelous game world. Those gorgeous dungeons are engraved in my memory now, and I want to roam them again and try to figure out Avalon's many mysteries. No, take that back: I don't need to figure out Avalon's many mysteries. I want to dive into that world again just for the sheer pleasure of it, just because it feels so tangible yet so surreal, solemn and timeless, just because it makes me feel like a full-fledged explorer trying to piece out a mystery that's beyond their understanding.

I realize that all my writing about Legend of Legacy is a trifle messy and quite emotional; and that's not too surprising, considering that it mirrors my experience of the game. I don't want to expand on the gameplay mechanics because I don't really care about them, at least not outside of the game's context. They are only a tool to a greater purpose, which is the roaming of that marvellous game world. I don't want to try to be rational about Legend of Legacy and to analyse it, because playing that game was a deeply emotional experience for me. It sent me back to a place I thought I had left forever, namely the early stages of my gaming career, where every cartridge held a promise of adventure and even the most barren game world was a place of wonders. I love Legend of Legacy for that. I love it for offering me a vast and tangled game world while refraining from any kind of hand-holding, giving me the pleasure of making discoveries and overcoming obstacles on my own. I love it for being so tough and so gorgeous at once, making me feel again like a kid taking their first steps into the wondrous world of videogaming. I love that game, and I'll play it again for sure—and I sure encourage you to do so as well, dear fellow gamers. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


The Legend of Legacy: The importance of guarding well

Amongst many other things, that is. There are so many interesting elements to discover in that game that I feel like I've barely brushed the surface of that pool of knowledge despite having been playing for a good 26 hours now. Legend of Legacy is getting deeper by the hour—and the boss fight—and I feel like I could never get enough of it. How exciting!

Guarding has been the key to both my progression and my fighting style so far. After I finally got my two Specials and equipped my lead character Garnet with them, it turned out that this purchase was not enough to turn the tables and allow me to gain the upper hand in fights. In utter desperation, I decided to experiment with formations. The Pegasus formation available from the get-go had never functioned well with my characters, because Owen was alloted the Guard stance by default yet was not sturdy enough to guard efficiently. But, lo and behold, I discovered at that fated moment that stances could be changed at will. Oh, the joy! I put Garnet on Guard duty and immediately noted a staggering change for the better. Since Garnet had the best guard stats at that point, along with the best equipment, she did a much better job at guarding than Owen and I could progress efficiently at long last, taking down powerful bosses along the way. The difficulty spike present at the beginning of more or less every single dungeon was not a problem anymore, which allowed me to explore more and to figure out what I was suppose to do, i.e. (spoiler) get the three Singing Shards and reactivate the three elemental temples to open up a whole new stretch of land bristling with new dungeons to explore. (End of spoiler)

Since then, everything has been going fine and dandy. Meurs and Owen have learnt powerful attacks that can target several foes at once, which is incredibly convenient to wrap up fights quickly, and the whole crew has been gaining SP, HP and stats with a pleasant regularity. Garnet has become the ultimate Guard master, with the unavoidable consequence that her attacking abilities took a step back. She hits quite weakly compared to her foils, but I'm planning to leave things that way and to keep concentrating on her guarding skills first and foremost. It's quite a pleasure to patiently build up my team and to see it become more and more efficient and specialized by the dungeon.

I'm still far from being done with team-building, mind you. I've not touched elemental abilities so far, and the Whispering Shards have remained safely tucked away in my inventory. I was actually not planning to touch them at all, since my tweaked Pegasus formation was working so fine, but I've encountered a formidable foe that is going to require a fair bit of elemental action. This foe is none other than the Green Dragon standing at the bottom of the Bogsaur Marsh; and if forum topics regarding this beast are to be believed, he is a Mont Blanc-sized difficulty spike in its own right. Fair enough; after beating every single complimentary boss offered by the game, I needed a bit of a challenge to spice things up. Bring it on, game! My next goal is to gain and level up elemental abilities and to devise a winning strategy to take down this cursed Green Dragon. I managed to beat all the other bosses of the game to a pulp, even the ones that seemed impossible to beat at first sight—and fight—so there is no reason things will turn out differently for this one. I'll see you after a couple of hours of grinding, fellow gamers!

In the meantime, I can expand on more general matters about the game. I'm really delighted with the importance given to strategies and carefully laid out party building in Legend of Legacy. Brute level-grinding and powerful equipment can only take you so far, and that won't be very far indeed. Substantials stats increases as well as brand-new abilities can only be gained when fighting enemies with levels similar or superior to the ones boasted by your crew, so levelling up by fighting weak foes in the first dungeons is definitely not an option to overcome the game's numerous difficulty spikes. It is crucial to find a fighting formation that works for you and to reinforce it by focused level-grinding—all the more so are there are only three party members, which means that they have to be both specialized and versatile. The level of party customization is absolutely perfect, with just the right number of options available to make one want to experiment with weapons, stances and party combinations without feeling overwhelmed. With some clever level-grinding, i.e. against foes with similar or superior levels, gaining new abilities and stats increases fast and efficiently is a piece of cake. En passant, I regret the fact that weak enemies were not granted a fleeing behaviour: they throw themselves at me even when they are obviously too weak to beat my crew, and since it's impossible to flee battles without being sent back to the beginning of the dungeon, I have to wrap up these fights even though it's pretty obvious that I won't gain any stats increase or items from them. Although it gives me the opportunity to luxuriate in my hard-earned superiority over foes that used to tower over me, it's also a huge time-sinker when I want to roam old dungeons, and I could have done without this hindrance. Oh, well.

There is still much more I want to say about Legend of Legacy, but I'm depleted my writing mojo for the day. See you thus in a couple of days, dear fellow gamers! Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


The Legend of Legacy: Finding my stride

Here is the game I have been pining for for ages: a good, meaty, addictive 3ds RPG. An RPG that would glue me to my 3ds screen for hours on end, until my wrists and thumbs cry for mercy. I'm been waiting for it, praying for it, and it came at long last. Joy and glory!

Mind you, that nearly miraculous gaming love story may well not have existed at all. A couple of hours ago, I was on the verge of quitting the game entirely before writing a scathing rant about it. The main issue was that I couldn't figure out the game's mechanics and thus couldn't find my footing, let alone my stride. I was totally lost at sea, exploring dungeons at random without making any discernible progress and finding myself overpowered by enemies on a regular basis. I didn't know what I was supposed to do, let alone how to do it, and playing Legend of Legacy was a confusing mess of a gameplay experience that I was very much inclined to cut short—along with my suffering.

What saved my run was a decision I made after a couple of hours of infructuous trudging and plodding, namely to gather enough money to purchase the two "Specials" available in the village's shop. We're talking about a sword and an armour, both powerful enough to give me the hope that I could gain an edge on foes at long last. Little did I know that gaining the upper hand during fights is actually a much more complicated business that requires more than overpowered gear; however, farming money for the purchase of the Specials allowed me to figure out the game's cryptic rules a lot better, along with giving me a objective to focus on and pursue. After I finally managed to get my hands on these much-coveted Specials, things started falling into place, slowly but surely. I figured out what I was supposed to accomplish in dungeons and how to gain the upper hand in fights, and I started making some very visible progress at long last. Now, after 16 hours of play, I can safely that I have gained a solid footing, and I can now make the game my own and play it my way. Better late than never, indeed.

Still, the fact that it took me more than ten hours to gain a decent knowledge of the game's rules and be able to feel at ease playing it is quite telling. It's extremely easy to write off LoL as a confusing, messy and ultimately lazy game that has little to offer beyond headaches and frustration. The game is much deeper than it seems at first sight, but it takes an awful lot of time to uncover that depth, due to cryptic rules and a non-linear progression that makes for unnecessary meanderings. I don't remember having struggled that much just to gain a basic mastery of a game's rules since... well, Final Fantasy Legend 2.

This uncanny similarity shouldn't come as a surprise, since LoL was conceived from the get-go as a "spiritual sequel" to the SaGa series. And boy, does it fit the bill perfectly. LoL is just as hard and cryptic as FFL2, and just as rewarding when obstacles are overcome at long last. I'd like to expand profusely on LoL's crypticness and toughness, but there is so much to say that I will rather leave these matters for future posts. For now, an overview of the game will suffice to conclude this post on a nice informative touch. One particular point I've not come accross so often in reviews regarding the game is its exact nature. Although it has been heavily marketed as a classic J-RPG, it is actually a pure dungeon-crawler. It present all the staples of the genre: single village acting as a restorative hub, world map with dungeon locations that can be accessed instantly, auto-drawing maps of the dungeons and last but not least, a skeletal story that is nothing more than a pretense to roam the vast and untamed game world. The game's peculiar style of crawling takes a while to get used to: instead of going for classic geometric dungeon design with straight lines, square rooms and right angles, LoL favours a more naturalistic approach that involves relief variations, hazards such as geysers or exploding cacti and all sorts of impediments linked to the nature of the terrain—without forgetting a lot of purely visual hindrances. It's an all too common occurrence to bump into an foe that was hidden behind trees or to have an flight attempt ruined by a hindering rock or bush. Still, this naturalistic brand of dungeon design offers an nice and refreshing alternative to geometric dungeons; I certainly have less trouble believing that I'm exploring vast expanses of uncharted wilderness in LoL than in, say, Gates to Infinity. LoL's brand of dungeon-crawling is also pleasantly non-linear, with several dungeons being available at the same time as a rule and many incentives to roam again previously explored dungeons—be they complimentary, like optional bosses, or mandatory, like the necessity to revisit some dungeons with newly gained items in order to progress further.

That's it for this introduction to Legend of Legacy, dear fellow gamers. See you soon with more meaty posts about that great game! Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!